The Heelers Diaries

the fantasy world of ireland's greatest living poet

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Location: Kilcullen (Phone 087 7790766), County Kildare, Ireland

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Night At The Opera

Kilcullen theatre for a charity recital of classical music in aid of an orphanage in Kenya.
My venerable mother accompanied me.
We sat in the centre seats of the second row.
The fourth highest army officer in the Republic of Ireland was master of ceremonies for the evening.
As Brigadier General Brannigan stood centre stage to begin his introduction, a feeling of deja vu swept over me.
My mind raced.
Improbable as it may seem, a full 25 years ago as a fresh faced teenager, I had been in this very theatre, in this very row, watching a classical music production with this very master of ceremonies.
In those days he had been merely a lowly Commandant.
Which meant that then, as now, he outranked me.
Oddly enough, his superior rank had not stopped my teenage self from disrupting the show.
No really.
Disrupt it I did.
Innocently. Good humouredly. In a fresh faced teenagery sort of way. Without a hint of maliciousness.
In a way that you couldn't help but love me.
Still, disruption it was.
And army officers do not like disruptions. Particularly disruptions of classical music evenings. And most especially disruptions where the audience appears to enjoy the disruption more than the show.
What exactly had I done...
It just so happens that one of the cast members all those years ago had been a school chum of mine.
Coincidentally the school chum was also the master of ceremonies' son.
This son was playing a flag bearer in the American Civil War segment of the show.
I decided to try and distract him.
Whenever my friend came on stage I coughed loudly, or half rose out of my seat, or made faces, or even chanced a few wild hand gestures.
You should know bold travellers of the internet, that although I am a rugged good looking fellow, I have an essentially rubbery face, and it can be difficult for performers to concentrate when I contort it in their direction.
In short order my school chum was reduced to paroxyms (or paroxysms?) of helpless laughter, a situation that made it impossible for him to fulfill his duties as a flagbearer in the unfolding Civil War pageant with the seriousness the role required.
Picture it.
The narrator is saying: "The battlefield was the scene of unparallelled slaughter."
And we see the flag bearer red faced, cheery and chuckling strolling through the devastation.
Soon his laughter proved contagious for other cast members.
Then the audience picked up on what was happening.
There was in the best sense of an old fashioned phrase, the most delicious chaos.
The master of ceremonies stood at the side of the stage helplessly. He had commanded United Nations peace keeping forces in Lebanon but tonight he was in command of nothing.
His cast were laughing fit to burst.
The audience were laughing fit to burst.
Yes, people were enjoying the evening. But for all the wrong reasons. Not much classical music was being played anyway.
And the Civil War had all but ground to a halt as confederate and union soldiers cracked up in giggles.
And there was little Jimmy Healy sitting in the second row with his arms folded, inconscient king of all this wanton destruction.
The master of ceremonies glowered right at me.
He had a ferocious glower. It seared me. A quarter of a century later I can still see it. It didn't stop me, mind you.
A glower will rarely if ever stop a loon.
Let us draw a curtain on this blessed scene.
Back to the present.
Kilcullen theatre, Saturday night, 6th of May 2006.
I'm sitting in the second row, fervently promising myself not to misbehave.
The Mammy is beside me.
The Brigadier is introducing a bunch of suits and ball gowns who call themselves The Millvent Singers.
About two dozen of them are spread out around the stage.
They look like army officers and accountants.
The sort of people who wouldn't spit on you if you were on fire.
I lean over to the mother.
"They should be called the Faces Like Boiled Shites Singers," I whisper.
She shushes me decisively.
The singing begins.
They perform Bach's infernal tootling in D minor.
I sit quite still in my seat.
The 40 year old James Healy is more conscious of his public image than the 15 year old one was. There is no question of any disruption. I have grown up.
The infernal tootling continues.
After an hour of it my self control wavers.
I begin to conduct the Millvent singers.
Without standing up, I do a rather good impression of one of the great conductors of old. My arms fly wildly about. My head jerks majestically from right to left. I keep this up for a little while.
A ripple goes through the audience. Like electricity.
I can feel it.
I begin to throw in rude hand gestures towards the Millvent singers as I conduct them.
The ripple is stronger.
I'm just starting to wonder where I can take this.
How far can I go?
Mercifully the curtain drops and we have reached intermission.
I get a grip and head for the foyer where drinks are being served.
It's not too late. No one is trying to throw me out. There has been no chaos. I can go back in there and behave for the second half.
The Brigadiers wife breezes up.
She is the show's producer.
"What do you think of it?" she asks me.
I look at her keenly, suspecting a double cross.
If I say I like it, she may well demand why I had been flipping the bird at her singers.
"It was lovely," I schmooze warmly. "You are bringing culture to the people."
And there our story ends.